Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is the seminal Brotherhood by New Order.
In 1986 Pet Shop Boys released their debut album 'Please,' Talk Talk brought out 'The Colour of Spring,' XTC contributed 'Skylarking,' The Smiths broke up and New Order changed the face of rock music forever.
The release of 'Brotherhood' marked a turning point in the career of New Order. Up until that point, they could be accused of continuing to wallow in the mire of Post-Punk, the intellectual investigation of sonic experimentation and the undeniable repercussions of Ian Curtis’ death.
Curtis was a huge figure in the early days of New Order. It seemed like his shadow hung over the recording of 'Movement' and 'Low-Life' and even 'Power, Corruption and Lies' despite the gradual introduction of synthesizers to their medley of instrumental outlets.
In fully accepting the buoyancy of Balearic dance music, the release of a wall-of-sound technique that had all the ecstatic urgency of a pharmaceutical and bodily catharsis, New Order paved their own way. They brought a healing and real feeling back into British rock music, whereas others were still trying to manoeuvre around the possibilities of communication in the form of lyrics or in the form of musical shadow play.
That’s what the second side of this album did for the band, but what about the first? A post-punk venture, it set out the childishness of an alienation that had to be communicated rather than its opposite side, which was dripping with a communal and felt unity. The first five songs on 'Brotherhood' have the sense of being a narrative, which dwells on mistaken solutions to long-running problems, on the idea of stretching out these mistakes to inform artistry.
Starting with Paradise, Bernard Sumner sings about someone who immediately seems to be the answer to a problem. It’s an ideal of paradise that is borne out of discontent when he murmurs, “When I looked into your lifeless eyes I saw you everywhere” in his trademark high-pitched tone. There’s something unmistakably eerie in the tone of this song even as Sumner sings of new love, because it is a love based on a perceived necessity.
He then goes on to describe the helplessness of someone who is incapable of feeling free in Weirdo. The subject is someone who is caught up in the phenomena of the world around them rather than seeking succour from inside. Confusion and self-help mantras are smattered in the midst of some trademark bouncy guitar-lines, which tend to over-ride what is a desperate song.
As It Is When It Was is slower to start. An acoustic guitar opens with Sumner again singing like a choirboy, with lyrics such as “I’ve been this way for so long now, you weren’t exactly falling over yourself when last I saw you,” “I’m not grown up and I’m not a boy. I feel no pain and I feel no joy,” and “This state of grace is consuming me,” saying something really significant while the music is always building towards the chorus until eventually the song ends with an intensity unheard of until that point.
So then the comedown that follows this confessional recalls more of Joy Division as Peter Hook’s bass is reintroduced to proceedings on Broken Promise. Sumner talks about his notions on life, giving us an insight into secrets that perhaps he wants to put in the past. Beyond this point of confiding comes a song full of confidence, Way of Life.
Sumner is accusatory as he calls out the subject for being disingenuous and you get the sense that whatever lie he discusses is not some insignificant white lie but the sort that stays with you, that had informed the way you lived your life. The music, however, is full of bombast and you feel a certain amount of innocence fall by the wayside, a sort of resurrection before the second side.
So then Bizarre Love Triangle starts the shock of the change hits immediately. There’s so much bounce, so much rhythm, instead of melody, that it becomes clear they are working on bravado rather than intellect. More feeling is revealed in lyrics that say “Every time I think of you I feel a shock right through like a bolt of blue.” But again Sumner mentions yesterday and you see that he is not over the worst of it, that the problems remain to be solved.
All Day Long is like the electronic antithesis to As It Is When It Was. The rhythm lopes unlike Bizarre Love Triangle and it can be summed up by the line where Sumner sweetly sings, “Don’t tell me about politics and the problems of economics when you can’t look after what you own, you scream and shout all day long.” A spectral kind of significance pervades the lyrics of All Day Long unlike any other song on 'Brotherhood,' full of the lessons learnt in their lives with melodies that run off on tangential waves of feeling.
For the latter half of 'Brotherhood,' all of the songs have a similar structure in that Sumner’s vocals are the focal point of the first half until whatever emotion has been put into his words becomes too much to hold down any longer and the music takes off in a danceable storm, a very physical bridge to nowhere. That is, for every song except Every Little Counts.
The exception to much of side two seems to hit a middle ground, a moderation of mood. The first two verses stand in stark contrast as Sumner first describes someone as a pig, and then goes on to describe them as being really, in fact, important. In the first instance he is joking as laughter bursts in amidst his description, thus it seems that he’s comfortable, connected.
The song ends with what drummer Stephen Morris described as an effort to replicate the skipping tape effect on The Beatles' A Day In The Life, so you don’t expect anything else to follow.
What does follow is State of The Nation, however, which sounds like it could conceivably be a weird cry against the effects of Communism, the literal term not the political movement. It feels like he is damning the effects of unconscious propaganda imagery, of gradual conformity and the subsequent loss of identity that occurs as a result.
Whereas the rest of the album was wholly personal, State of the Nation has its gaze firmly set outwards, which is half the battle in these things.
On 'Brotherhood' New Order found their tone. They finally stepped away from Post-Punk and seemed to discover themselves in a way that they had not been able to beforehand. The split nature of the release attests to this as it feels like the invisible split between the sides was more of a bridge from the past to the future.
You can almost hear them growing up as they set a new precedent for electronica in rock music, no longer the icy introversion that adorned David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, or Kraftwerk’s mechanised subjects. Synthesizers became the great describers of an indescribable joy or feeling, as further elaborated on 'Technique.' With 'Brotherhood' they put their grimy past behind them and no longer sought the loneliness of an ideal but made the decision to crest the waves rather than to crash headlong into them.